Tuesday, August 24, 2010


This afternoon I drove home right into the middle of a huge storm. I can't describe how beautiful that looks out here in the desert. It was perfectly sunny as I left work, with big white, puffy clouds above me, but as soon as I got out on the highway I could see the palm trees start to blow sideways and I could feel the wind shifting my little Cobalt to the right and to the left. And then on the horizon - right up towards our side of town - the sky was a deep, bruise blue.

I tried to listen to the Hugh Hewitt show - he usually keeps me company on my drive home - but I couldn't get the station in. I think the storm was messing with the signal. So I pressed play on the CD player, not remembering what was in there, and Brooke Fraser's "Albertine" started up. You've got to hear the first few bars of that song - if there were ever a perfect sound to drive into a storm to, it'd be that.

Last week I googled around until I found the story of that song. I had already deduced that it was about a girl named Albertine, and that Albertine was somehow disenfranchised. The bridge says "I will keep my word - I will tell them, Albertine!" ...and how can you not google that? I was dying to know the rest of the story.

Apparently Brooke was visiting Rwanda, and met an orphan named Albertine whose mother, Angelique, had been killed in the genocide; which the Rwandans refer to as the "day the world forgot us." (Sends shivers down your spine, doesn't it?) So Brooke made a promise to not let the world forget about Albertine. I'm certain Brooke can tell that story much better than me - but surely you already feel the beauty of it.

It makes me think of faces. There are four faces so far in my life that have done a certain something to me. All four of them are little kid faces, with impossibly big eyes - in all four cases - and even more impossibly adorable cheeks. All four of the faces belong to boys, and each one of them are a child I've connected to in some kind of volunteering capacity. I met Diego and David in Ecuador two summers ago, when I was there teaching English and living in an extremely impoverished neighborhood. They lived there with their sweet mom Germania, their sister Kati and a handful of adorably mocha-skin-colored cousins. For the first few days that I was in the neighborhood, Diego followed me everywhere, and after chatting with him a bit I realized he had a wise-beyond-his-years sense of humor. I tought him some English words and he loved reciting them back to me. "Book." "Friend." "Water." Every evening after I had been volunteering all day, I would saunter up to the internet cafe that his uncle owned, and we'd sit at an old Macintosh monitor and giggle. I always made him tell me what he'd learned in school that day, and then I'd tell him to go get me some ice cream and he'd just laugh.

After about a week there, I bought him a soccer ball, because about two minutes after I had stepped off the plane I could tell it was his heart and soul. He loved it and I gained instant popularity among all cousins and neighbors - but mostly with his little brother, David.

David had chronically messy hands, and his smile stretched outside of his face beyond his ears. That sounds improbable, but you wouldn't say that if you'd met him. He had the kind of giggle that sounded like he couldn't control it at all - like once he started, he couldn't stop and it rolled out of his belly like a long sigh. I've never heard a giggle like that one - it was the same kind of uncontrollable, slightly hushed laugh that someone gives when they're being tickled and wish they weren't. He couldn't help it. Everything made him so full of giggles, they just spilled. He clung to my neck so much that by my second week there he looked like he had hooked on for good - teeth flashing, wavy brown hair going in every direction, giggle filling the air.

David's favorite thing was hearing his name pronounced like an English-speaking person would pronounce it. (He of course pronounced it "Dah-VEED.") So every night he made me call him "DAY-vid" and the tiny giggles would string out on a chorus line all the way down into the mangroves.

One day, David fell asleep on my shoulder while I held him as we took a long walk, and my heart hasn't been the same since then.

On the six-week winter break between fall and winter quarter of my junior year, I volunteered three nights a week at the Haven of Rest in downtown Akron, OH. It's a shelter for women and children, and it's a lovely alternative to freezing temperatures and scary alleys. It was during my time there that I met Joshua.

Joshua was a skinny, wriggly, wide-eyed African American boy who had an adoring mom, though I forget her name now. During most of the time I hung around the Haven of Rest Joshua had a cold, and he always had a little bit of dry skin around his mouth and nose. That's still how I see his face. Huge, curious eyes; mouth open because he couldn't breathe through is nose; and dry skin.

He was about three feet tall with lanky arms, and he gave the best hugs. He was extremely quiet, but he started clinging to my leg after the first day I protected him from the mean kids in the playroom. After that day I had earned his trust, and we were best buds. We played with every single toy in the shelter, and every time I walked in the door there was a happy screech and a running hug. Every time I smooched him goodnight I felt a cement lump in my stomach - and now I do again, picturing his little arms and legs and sniffly nose.

And then there is little Sam. Little Sam is the tender-hearted little artist that Aaron and I sponsor through World Vision. He lives in Uganda, and is 9 years old. We've never met him, but his little face absolutely knocks the wind out of me. He likes to draw us pictures (mostly of soccer matches) and his favorite color is pink! We will meet him one day; of that I'm sure.

Something supernatural has happened to me when I've seen these faces. It happens even now when I recall them to memory. They've sparked something in me that makes me want to yell. I want to hug all of them and give all of them everything, and force all of them to understand just how impossibly much I love them - how even I don't understand how much I love them. How their faces make my stomach hurt and I cry when I go too long without seeing them. How Aaron doesn't even mention them to me because it throws me into fits of tears and hiding underneath my covers. How it makes me physically ill to think of them going without something, or having a tummy ache, or not knowing just what incredibly magnificent, humongous stories they all are and how I'm on the edge of my toes waiting to see the rest of them. How I feel like someone has kicked me in the chest when I think about how desperately I want to be with them. To help them.

I still send Diego and David a little present just about every month - with a letter telling them I love them, to do good in school, and to enjoy whatever little toy I'm including. I get e-mails from their Mom on occasion. I know I will see them again.

I haven't seen Joshua since January of 2008, but I pray for him, and his mom and baby sister. I send them love.

And I've never met Sam, but we will.

There are still faces I see every day that spur my heart to action - feeble and awkward though those actions may be. I give Rosy, the woman who washes dishes at The Phoenician, hugs in the hallway when her arthritis is acting up. I share family pictures with Julia, and I hurt for Pati, who fights with her daughter. But I still feel something else.

It's when I listen to "Albertine;" or when I think of Diego, David, Joshua and Sam that I get a little shiver that comes from somewhere outside myself. And suddnely I'm right behind the starting line; jumping up and down to keep my muscles loose; shaking out my arms to keep them ready and the adrenaline is spilling out so much and so fast that I know I'll almost take off before the gun. This is where I am now. I'm waiting for God to give the go-ahead. When our circumstances are right and He waves the flag, I'm leaving nothing but a trail of smoke behind me. I can almost feel the new faces that are going to break my heart.

Face of Diego.

Face of David.Face of little Sam.

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